What is happening in our world? Who is doing what? what is going on now? These are questions that will be answered. Enjoy.
Vampire Weekend’s Father of the Bride Album Review
When Vampire Weekend wrapped touring their universally lauded 2013 LP, Modern Vampire of the City, they were the hottest band in the world. The melancholy set became their second collection in a row to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200—even then a remarkable feat for four white guys with guitars—and won the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album. Frontman Ezra Koenig was featured in the credits of Beyonce’s Lemonade, penning the hook to “Hold Up” with Diplo, and decamped to Mexico for a Kanye West writing camp. Their live show had crossed the furthest corners of the globe while they landed high-profile slots at festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Glastonbury.
But much has changed in the time since. And as they return with their fourth LP, Father of the Bride, out today, the landscape has changed dramatically. Founding member and in-house producer/co-lyricist Rostam Batmanglij departed the outfit in 2016, seeking solo projects. Bassist Chris Baio moved to London while Koenig took off for Los Angeles, where he became an anime creator for Netflix as well as a father for the first time. (He and partner Rashida Jones welcomed a son last summer.) In 2018, the new arrangement signed their first major label contract with Columbia Records, recording home of Adele, Arcade Fire, Harry Styles, and more. Even on a purely creative-level, they had found an end: Koenig said following Modern Vampire’s release that their first three releases operated as a trilogy.
The culture has also shifted. The boom-thwack of hip-hop has a death grip on the Hot 100 now, but when Modern Vampire released, it did so to a chart that played happy host to a wide swath of sounds; Kanye West’s Yeezus and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories sat alongside Drake’s Nothing Was the Same and Lorde’s Pure Heroine. Guitar music still had a place in the mainstream conversation: fellow indie rockers-gone-big league-band Arcade Fire brought arena-sized rock to the dance floor with Reflektor while The National and Arctic Monkeys dropped two of the best sets of their careers. More generally, there’s also been a movement to not just include but also explore the viewpoints of those who look nothing like the men of Vampire Weekend, which is to say the privileged, white male. (Famously, the band members met as each was studying at the prestigious Columbia University in New York City.)
And so FOTB is a new beginning. A remarkable one, in fact. As has always been their hallmark, the songs—18, in total—are precise in their construction. The production, overseen by Modern Vampires collaborator Ariel Rechtshaid as well as Kendrick Lamar and Drake studio wiz DJ Dahi and BloodPop (Justin Bieber, Madonna), is perfect. The record, as always, never feels stiff, instead carrying on at an enviable leisure. But it’s ambitious in ways Vampire Weekend’s prior releases were not. The sheer breadth of musical ground covered is staggering. Orchestral strings, jazzy pianos, folky strings, vocoder interludes, and handclap beats all get folded between mille-feuille-esque layers of acoustic pop, ska, and even prog rock. Single “This Life” features an interpolation of an iLoveMakonnen song while “Hold You Now,” one of three duets with Danielle Haim, embraces folk revival. (To quote the band from late in the LP, “Things have never been stranger.”)
At first listen, it’s striking how outside of the realm of “now” the album operates. Despite the sonic stretching, you’ll find almost no overlap with the dominant trends of today, which occasionally throws into question how vital the release really feels. And while Koenig has said he was inspired to write more direct lyrics following a transformative Kacey Musgraves concert, those thoughts focus mainly on the internal. “It’s about the ties that bind,” Koenig has said of the collection’s focus, “the relationships between communities, between humans and God, between people and the land they live on.”
But FOTB rewards the active listener. And like the heavily filtered times we live in, the light, joyful, downright beguiling, first blush is a façade. Beneath lurks a sea of anxiety. “Baby, I know dreams tend to crumble at extremes,” he admits on “This Life.” “I just thought our dream would last a little bit longer.” On “My Mistake,” he mourns the hope that used to course through his veins. “There was springtime and future,” he sings over burbling water accents and forlorn fingerpicking, “’til I made my mistake.” On “Spring Snow,” he laments the end of a weekend spent in bed with a lover. “But here comes the sun,” he sings, catapulting the familiar Beatles lyric into sadness, “those toxic old rays.”
It’s hard to imagine there’s a song that better captures the current global unease in 2019 than “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin,” which serves as the final notes of the set. (That is also references the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which threw the British government’s support behind the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, means it’s also hard to imagine there’s a song that better captures the academic lyricist.) ‘O wicked world,” goes the chorus, ‘Just think what could have been.” Later, it cautions, ‘But don’t let them restart/That genocidal feeling That beats in every heart.’”
It’s a scary feeling, and to have it put to such stunning backgrounds is at once soothing and unnerving. It also makes the case that, even in the age of Hip-Hop and gothic pop, Vampire Weekend remain some of the best chroniclers of Now. Whether the set will translate to the masses as it has in the past, potentially becoming their third LP to debut atop the Billboard 200, remains to be seen. But if the early buzz is any indication, Father of the Bride may prove that Vampire Weekend can withstand any trend or era of music.
Madison Vain is a writer and editor living in New York.